While network performance monitoring has always been vital within the enterprise, it's serving a bigger role than just tracking bandwidth utilization. As IT pros must also now worry about maintaining the quality of performance-sensitive, real-time communications services like Voice over IP, monitoring tools can help them uphold voice quality -- particularly while transitioning from traditional time-division multiplexing (TDM) to VoIP.
Herman Miller, an interior furnishings company based in Zeeland, Mich., recognized the need for Voice over IP (VoIP) monitoring for its voice calls to support its growing global workforce. With thousands of employees spread throughout 100 manufacturing facilities, sales offices and dealers in the United States, China, Italy and the United Kingdom, users rely heavily on communications tools to get their jobs done.
"There's quite a lot that goes into making a quality voice or video experience on your network -- especially on [wide area network] WAN links," said Louis Lieto, network architect for Herman Miller.
Selecting PathView Cloud for VoIP monitoring
When Herman Miller began experimenting with and piloting VoIP, network administrators knew it would be a big change from TDM. They also knew it might be tricky to gauge the user experience.
"We knew [VoIP] was something we must monitor and keep track of closely because you don't always get that call from the users," Lieto said.
Lieto and his team weren't planning to sit by idly, however, and wait for user complaints to roll in. They had originally deployed NetIQ’s Qcheck offering for baseline testing at remote sites.
More on VoIP monitoring
Fundamentals for testing and monitoring VoIP
Protocol interoperability and VoIP monitoring for performance
VoIP monitoring over the WAN: Basic network considerations
Qcheck enabled administers to set up voice tests at remote sites, but the network engineering team wanted more monitoring capabilities. Due to the company's large number of remote offices, there was no way Lieto and his team could keep an eye on VoIP monitoring everywhere in real time. The ability to mine historical monitoring data would have given them a more thorough analysis, Lieto said.
"We are a global company, but the challenging part is all the network and application performance problems come to us here in the U.S.," he said, noting that the Michigan-based IT team works across all time zones, from China to California.
The company's VoIP traffic runs on Verizon's multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) network. Calls over the Internet are carried by Verizon and AT&T in the U.S. and via local providers in other countries, such as Tata Communications in India.
Herman Miller wanted to understand performance across the WAN, and opted to trial AppNeta's PathView Cloud product for VoIP monitoring. PathView Cloud, a small appliance, centrally monitors performance of any IP network leading out of a data center. It also determines whether a given network is capable of meeting the needs of any application, such as voice, noted Jim Melvin, CEO of Boston-based AppNeta.
The PathView Cloud's dashboard alerts Lieto and his team when one of their carriers is not delivering sufficient bandwidth and low-enough latency to make VoIP work across all locations. Although the NetIQ product was similar to AppNeta's PathView Cloud offering, it was not easy to manage and did not offer monitoring capabilities, Lieto said.
AppNeta's network performance tools are designed to work well for large enterprises with remote sites, thanks to its historical monitoring capabilities, Melvin noted. The products allow IT pros to analyze traffic, pinpoint network and application activity, and identify problems in the data center and branch offices -- even if the problem occurred overnight in a different country.
Herman Miller selected PathView Cloud for VoIP monitoring following a successful trial period. The historical monitoring capability is what sold Lieto on PathView Cloud.
"I can now go back if [a user] tells me they were having a problem with voice at this location, [and] I can quickly see what the WAN was doing at that specific time relating to voice traffic," he said.
PathView Cloud grants flexibility, visibility across global locations
PathView Cloud monitors voice availability in real-time in addition to historical monitoring, and the alert system can be configured according to a network administrator's preference. Lieto and his team receive email alerts for VoIP issues, among other types of network activity.
Lieto also enjoys the flexibility PathView Cloud offers.
"When [PathView Cloud] notices a violation based on the parameters that [our IT team] specifies within the product -- and many can be specified -- we get an email telling us the problem," he said. "The [administrator] can then drill deeper into the network to get to the bottom of the issue."
More flexibility across remote locations has also translated into cost savings. The PathView Cloud device allows Herman Miller's IT pros to centrally manage VoIP and is much smaller in size than Qcheck, making it easier to ship and deploy within branch office locations in other countries. "Managing VoIP is in our control, but out of our hands," Lieto said. "It's one less thing to worry about."
Like IT, users have been happy with voice quality since Herman Miller has switched its VoIP monitoring to PathView Cloud. Lieto hopes to expand its use soon to monitoring the quality of international calls.
"I don't love VoIP internationally now," Lieto said, noting that some calls between certain locations -- like India to China -- can be poor quality. "If we can guarantee voice quality internationally, we will be able to do quite a bit more calls."